I had an entire post written about a memory from my college days that somehow evaporated after two drafts, and I’m not in the mood to redo it right now. Instead, I wanna talk about Anthony Hopkins.
Anyone who follows my thread on Facebook saw my post the other day about Hopkins winning the Oscar on Sunday, and how he’s apparently the first openly autistic person to win it. That blew my mind – WHAT?!?!? Upon reading the article, Hopkins was apparently diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome in 2017, at about 78 years old. He admits to being very high-functioning, but somehow he had flown under the radar his entire life. Almost eighty years. He says that he did poorly in school, he couldn’t concentrate well, and that for most of his early life he just figured he was stupid.
Imagine that. Feeling that something is wrong with you because you’re not like your peers in some way. Feeling inadequate, unable to connect or to accomplish what others around you are doing with relative ease. Sir Tony simply resigned himself to the fact that he probably wouldn’t go far in life. And yet, when he found something that he loved – the theatre – he threw himself into it with incredible focus and drive. He states that, since he knew he was “stupid”, he would have to work even harder to have any chance of success in the field.
As a result, he trained himself to train himself. He disciplined himself to learn his lines thoroughly, backward and forward, with no room for error, because he felt he didn’t have any. The result is an acting style with a delivery that sounds incredibly natural, never forced, and an actor with an intensity that few can top. Silence of the Lambs is the obvious example, but take just a moment to examine his performance as Odin in any of the Thor movies. The man has gravitas. In the first Thor in particular, Chris Hemsworth sounds sometimes like a bad Shakespearean actor, and I think it was possibly intentional for that film. Swaggering, pompous, over-inflected and grandiose, and again, while I do think it was on some level a choice, check out Hopkins. Tony. Barely. Moves. He raises his voice in maybe two places. But his eyes are rock steady, his body never flinches, and you have no doubt of Odin’s POWER. This guy gives Zero. Fucks. And every single word out of his mouth flows out with confidence, ease, and no need to be pushed. He believes what he’s saying, because the actor is in complete control, and since the actor is in control, the character is in control. It’s impressive.
And Sir Tony does this in every. Single. Thing he’s in. Even a more over the top character like Van Helsing in Coppola’s Dracula just sounds so damn natural when he talks, even when he’s rattling off, “Oh, you drive a stake through her heart and you cut off her head”, It’s so casual and matter-of-fact it almost seems like a throwaway. Hopkins rarely fails to give a less-than-stellar performance, and I’ve admired him for years, ever since Lecter first stared into my soul.
And now, I admire him even more after discovering his autism. Because, without even being aware of it, Sir Tony had to learn how to overcome his own inherent challenges to become one of the most effective communicators in the business, in the world. I have a feeling that he probably has always had trouble making eye contact (a common tic in autism), and as an actor he had to learn how to do it, and that is what gives his eyes their intensity, their focus, their power. I remember learning as a child that eye contact was one of the most important parts of communication, and I made a point of looking into people’s eyes, not only as I talked to them but also as I listened to them. It’s what people expect, and if they don’t get it, they think they’re not being listened to. It’s a common issue with Aspies, although Duncan only has this issue if he doesn’t want to talk about what you want to talk about. When he’s leading the conversation, he looks right at you. Eye contact signals engagement, and he wouldn’t do it when he was in virtual school.
In-person school is going great, however. Every day when I pick him up, I get a thumbs up from his teacher, and he’s starting to tell us things about his day. You gotta ask, but he’ll tell you now. He’s had a new best friend every day for three days in a row, so he’s becoming more and more social with his classmates (you’re his bestie if you’ll play zombie hunt with him), and he’s engaging more and more with more than one person at a time on the playground. He still has his aide, but on Wednesday he did all of his classwork by himself, with no aide and no extra prompting. He’ll tell you he still hates school, but his actions speak differently.
At home he’s getting better, too. His tantrums are decreasing, and his questions are increasing. He has two favorite books at the moment: 1001 Kid Jokes, and my own childhood copy of The Charlie Brown Dictionary, which he’s reading front to back. He can’t read it cover to cover because he’s torn the covers off. We had new friends over for dinner last night, and their five year old girl Winslow became his next new bestie, and they played for hours. It was wonderful to see.
Duncan’s journey is just beginning. There will be hurdles, for sure, but he’s a happy, healthy five year old, and he’s doing well so far. And Sir Tony’s openness about his own autism and his obvious success give me hope that, not only can Duncan be happy and successful, but so can so many other kids on the spectrum, if they’re given the opportunity to focus on something they love, and the love and strength it takes to help them along the way.
While I’m a little bummed that Chadwick Boseman (RIP) didn’t win the Oscar on Sunday, I’m grateful that Sir Tony did just because of what it proves to me and to the world about autism. Not every kid on the spectrum will necessarily thank the Academy, but they can do so much more than we think they can. We just need to make sure that their spirits aren’t broken. Sir Tony’s definitely wasn’t, and he didn’t even have any of the resources that these kids do now.
I can’t wait to see what Duncan becomes. And if he ever thanks the Academy, I hope he takes me and his mom with him to the show.
I know last time I said I would write about Ryder, but I should have written this post a very long time ago. I had intended to so many, many times, because this date is now one of the most important in my life, and it should have been acknowledged by now. Bear with me, because it’s a long one. But we wiill start with Ryder.
You all know Ryder. Ryder was about five and a half at this point, and he was very excited to become a big brother. We have a video clip somewhere of his reaction when we told him Julee was pregnant, and you should see the joy in his face. If I can ever track it down again after multiple phones and who knows how many backups, I’ll re-post it. It’s lovely.
So Ryder was onboard for a sibling. He was, however, very adamant that he did NOT want a sister. He had to share a bedroom with his new sibling, and he couldn’t handle the thought of there being anything pink in there. A man can only take so much. So, even though we kept Ryder’s own gender a secret from ourselves, we had the OB tell us this time around so we could warn him upfront. The gods showered their favor on him and blessed him with a little brother. Ryder sighed with relief, and then we got down to the business of choosing a name.
P.S.: I am totally in favor of not finding out the sex of your baby beforehand. Yes, I know, it can help you pick colors, blah blah blah, but there are very few true surprises in life, and I feel like this one is worth it. Anyway.
Julee had veto power last time due to the more than slightly harrowing circumstances of Ryder’s own birth, but the name had more or less been decided by the day, and when the time came, I was simply grateful for the good news and could care less about something as trivial as the kid’s name. Like I said, we had no idea whether we were having a boy or a girl the first time around, so we tried to be prepared either way. A girl’s name was easy, but a satisfying boy’s name was elusive. Finally, though, we settled on Ryder Quinn, Julee more than me, but again, on the day, it worked just fine. Julee graciously acknowledged her win for the first kid, so I got a little more pull with the second one. “Duncan” had been on my list for boys’ names forever, and Julee had it as a family name somewhere along the line, so that one worked pretty well. I had also always loved the name Jude, and Hey, Jude is my favorite Beatles song, so that one was my top pick. It took a little work for Julee, but eventually she came around. Ryder, however, was opposed to “Duncan” for reasons known only to him. His own personal preference was to name him “Argentina Neptune” – don’t ask where that came from. However, we won that fight by telling him that he could have Dunkin Donuts on the day of his brother’s birth. It was the perfect bribe, and “Duncan Jude” was settled on.
Duncan was due on September 5, and all preparations were made for the date. My mom and dad both planned trips out here to meet the new little guy, and we replaced Ryder’s regular bed with a massive loft bed with drawers built in so the two boys could share the tiny bedroom in our house at the time. Everything seemed to be going smoothly until July 29.
Julee was going for her final ultrasound that day, and we all went along so Ryder could hopefully see it as well and get a first glimpse at the new addition. He was super excited and felt pretty grown up. At the OB’s office, though, Julee’s blood pressure was abnormally high. It’s usually extremely low, bordering on non-existent, so this was unusual, and it wasn’t the first time during the pregnancy that it had been elevated above even the normal range. She also hadn’t felt much movement in recent days, and she’d been feeling unusually queasy lately as well. She hadn’t really had any morning sickness with Ryder, nor in the early stages of this one, but lately…. The OB was concerned, so she started searching for a fetal heartbeat.
She couldn’t find one.
Within seconds, Ryder and I were rushed back to the waiting room, where we spent the next hour or so with no idea what was happening. Finally, the OB came out and told me that we were having a baby TODAY. This was five and a half weeks before the due date, which meant that Duncan’s lungs were likely not fully formed yet. It was risky, but she knew that if we took him out that day, they could intervene in numerous ways. If we waited until he was full term… who knows? She had no idea what was going on in there, and the only way to know for sure was to deliver. NOW.
This was at 4 in the afternoon. Julee was going to deliver by C-section within the next few hours, and I had to be there at the hospital as well. So I got to work. I started making all the necessary calls. My mom immediately rescheduled her flight for the next day. Ryder ended up spending the night with one of his buddies, and I packed a bag for Julee to stay in the hospital for the next couple of days. I called all the close family and friends, and I prepared myself as best I could.
I knew more of what to expect this time around, since Ryder had also been delivered by a surprise C-section, but the stakes were much higher this time around. We wheeled into the room, and everything went as planned. And then they lifted Duncan up above the sheet, and I could see the fist-sized knot tied in his cord.
My heart dropped. I knew what oxygen deprivation usually meant for a fetus. Brain damage. I thought we could either be facing a lifetime of permanent disability or possibly planning a funeral. I was scared during Ryder’s delivery, but this was a completely new sort of dread. The OB and her team rushed him to the side table to get him breathing, which took several minutes and during that time every nightmare thought possible raced through my head. Finally, though, they got him to start breathing, but it was weak, and they knew they would have to provide support. Also, as soon as he started crying, he peed blood.
A second wave of terror washed over me. What was going on?? They rushed him out of the room and began doing the really hard work of keeping him alive. Julee was moved to recovery, and the attending doctor started interrogating me on family history of kidney issues. Those of you who know me well know that I only have one kidney – my left one was removed when I was three months old due to some serious problems I was having. Another story for another time, but right now it was relevant. The hospital Duncan was born in was small and didn’t have a NICU, so Duncan was going to have to be moved immediately. The larger hospital in nearby Pasadena had more resources. So, while Julee came down from the drugs, I made all the calls again, and they prepped him to be moved by ambulance.
This is Duncan’s first photo. I still have it on my phone to this day, and I’ll never delete it. Tube down his throat, electrodes stuck all over him, Duncan was sealed inside a plastic cocoon for his ride. We were only able to touch him once before they had to rush him away. I followed the ambulance in my car while they moved Julee to a private recovery room. Once Duncan arrived at Huntington, they had to infuse him with blood because of the loss from what he was still peeing out. If you’ve never seen this, it’s yet another parental nightmare. They had to insert a needle into his scalp. I was told his lungs hadn’t fully formed yet, and he would definitely need positive breath support for several days. Basically, a tube into his lungs to gently push air into them and help his still-developing and very weak diaphragm pull air in. Gravity would help him breathe out, but he needed help to start. He was also jaundiced and would need the bilirubin light for a while as well. I was told to go home and get some sleep. Come back in the morning, and they would update me as needed.
The fun continued the next day. When I got there, they told me that the blood in his urine was from damage to his kidneys and the adrenal glands on top of them. In fact, at that moment, they weren’t even sure his adrenals were developing at all. Plus, his kidney function was extremely low. I won’t go into the specifics, but essentially they were worried that his kidneys might never work properly.
I watched him tan under the bilirubin light for a while, and then I shared the news with all the relatives and peeps and went to the other hospital where Julee was recovering. She wasn’t gonna wait aroudn to see him. She hadn’t even held him yet. Less than a full day after having a C-section, Julee dressed and walked out of that hospital on her own two feet, and I drove her to Huntington. She walked into the NICU under her own power, and we were all together again. Except for Ryder, who would have to wait for a few more days to see him.
Preemies are usually much smaller than full-term babies, understandably. They can often have health issues their entire lives. and seeing a ward full of super tiny humans is a humbling thing. But Duncan was a MONSTER. at five and a half weeks early, this kid weighed almost SEVEN POUNDS. He dwarfed all the other babies in the NICU. Had he gone full term, he probably would have weighed around ten pounds. Julee literally would have given birth to a bowling ball with hair. He was a beast. And apparently, a strong one. They kept the breath support for about five or six days, if memory serves, but eventually the tube came out. His jaundice improved within about that same time, and all signs were good. Except that he was still peeing blood. They couldn’t figure out exactly where it was coming from.
After a week in the NICU he was moved into a private room for closer observation, and while it lessened, the blood was still there. His kidney function was low, but steadily climbing, even with the blood. But, after about nine days, they seemed to think he would be okay. We had begun to relax, thinking he would be home soon. Then, on Day Ten, the doctor on his case called me and told me they were moving him immediately to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. After another ultrasound they suspected he might have a blood clot in his inferior vena cava, which was very bad news. Huntington was good, but they weren’t as good as CHLA. CHLA is one of the best pediatric hospitals in the world, and if anyone could help him, they could.
Another ambulance ride, more waiting, more terror. Duncan got to CHLA, and within an hour he was seen by a pediatric urologist. This dude was the biggest bro I had ever met. He was one of the best, and he knew it. As we waited in terror, he strolled in and told us nonchalantly that it was probably no big deal. It could be a blockage in his urethra, it could be this, it could be that, whatever, bro. It was the most Dude-California doctor experience we’d ever had, and it wasn’t exactly comforting. Doctor Bro left, and then we saw the nephrologist, Dr. Lemley. Lemley was fantastic. We todl him about what Doctor Bro told us, and he smiled and said, “Ah, yes, Doctor Bro. He’s a great urologist. But this is a kidney issue, and I’ve been doing this for a long time.”
In a nutshell, the lack of oxygen had manifested in damage to the kidneys instead of the brain, and the blood was essentially just scabbing from where his kidneys and adrenals were healing. We had very little to worry about in terms of immediate health. He was going to be okay. OH, and it had nothing to do with my own kidney history. Just a weird coincidence.
Duncan spent another week at CHLA, and during that time the bleeding stopped, and his kidney function improved. Julee spent a couple of nights there in the most uncomfortable hospital couch-bed in existence, but we were so close that we just drove down every day. After that week, he came home.
Dr. Lemley’s diagnosis wasn’t all sunshine. He told us that, although the initial damage was healing, it probably meant that his kidney function could be impaired permanently. It all depended on the number of nephrons in his kidneys, the little filters that everyone has that do the work. Nephrons apparently vary in number – the more you have, the better your kidneys are. There was no way to predict how many nephrons his kidneys had, because they would continue to grow as he grew, and all we could do was monitor them until adulthood. Lemley told us that we could probably expect him to need a kidney transplant by the time he was an adult. But, we wouldn’t know until we knew. Not the best news, but it was better than the way we felt two weeks earlier.
We saw Dr Lemley every week, then every two weeks, then every month, then every two months, then every three months until Duncan was about eighteen months old. At that point, he told me that somehow Duncan’s kidneys had fixed themselves. He’d never seen anything like it, and all of the staff referred to him as a miracle baby. He had healed himself with no intervention from an injury that was likely to have lifelong effects. Amazing. He’ll continue to be monitored until he’s eighteen, but now it’s every two years, and so far he’s fine. We went from worrying that he might not survive the night to a perfectly healthy baby boy. SCIENCE!!!
Life with Duncan Jude continues to have its challenges. There’s plenty of work to do to help him develop and grow, but man, is he strong. He’s very big for his age, just like his brother was and just like his father was. He’s whip-smart and precocious. He’s also stubborn, and that’s probably what saved him as a baby. He’s a fighter, and that will only help him overcome whatever obstacles he’ll face as he grows. And being autistic, he’ll have them. But I think he’ll be okay.
Now, the big question: did his birth trauma cause his autism? The answer: who the fuck knows? it doesn’t really matter, except maybe from a scientific point of view. But it’s done, and all we can do is help him figure it out. And he’s still a miracle baby, even when he’s a pain in the ass.
As of this writing, he’s currently dancing to “Zombies Want Your Candy” by the inimitable Parry Gripp, a kids’ musician who is now my mortal enemy. He’s playing with the dog and splashing in the spa because it’s hot outside. He’s come a long way from the baby in the plastic bubble.
Oh, and Ryder finally got to see him and hold him after that first week in the NICU. Here’s a picture of that. And the joy is still there.
Write. Every day. Whatever. No matter what. Write. Write every day.
Apparently, once I fall of the wagon, I fall hard. I’ve had numerous ideas for posts in the last couple years, even started banging out early drafts of a few of them, and never got around to finishing them. I’m looking at them just below the box I’m typing in, wondering if any of them are worth finishing at this point, since they’re largely dated. No idea. May go back and give each of ’em a once-over just for the sake of it, and maybe save anything promising.
Write. Every day. Whatever. No matter what. Write. Write every day.
I carry a notebook around with me most of the time so I can jot down thoughts and ideas, nuggets of inspiration and whimsies, and, since most of the time my hands are full of baby these days, the notebook doesn’t get much use. The spine, stiff from lack of stretching, desperately in need of some book yoga to loosen it up, get it feeling like a BOOK again. I used to be really good at scrawling random musings in a notebook. Even had one where I played with the format of HOW I wrote all the time, writing upside-down, solely around the edges of the page, spiraling into the center. The kind of shit you do in your twenties that you think makes you “edgy”.
Write. Every day. Whatever. No matter what. Write. Write every day.
I spend more time writing posts on Facebook, ranting about politics (which I did this very morning) or making amusing comments on the latest Onion article (a venerable, worthy institution, one for whom I would love to write someday if I could only remember how to be that funny). I do, apparently, make several friends’ day with my efforts, so it’s not a total loss. But I’m not really saying anything, not generating any thoughts of my own.
All that’s about to change.
Don’t worry, I’m still gonna post articles from the Onion, because they’re funny as hell and some of the most painfully accurate satire there is these days. Can’t live without that. But I’m losing my own voice, and I can’t have that. So that’s why I’m repeating this little mantra.
Write. Every day. Whatever. No matter what. Write. Write every day.
That’s my challenge to myself. Whatever it is, write it. This blog. Plays. Screenplays. Prose, Poetry. My own brilliant satire, whenever I come up with some. Turn the goddamn TV off and write. Put the kids to bed and write.
Oh yeah, I have two kids now. Pretty much anyone who follows this blog is already aware of that. One’s asleep in his crib right now, and the other is outside playing with his dart guns, so I’m stealing a few minutes to get to it and write. I love my boys so much it hurts, but they’re a lot of work, and it makes it hard to do the other work that matters to me, too. But
I’ve always tended to be pretty stream-of-consciousness when I write; too much structure up front stifles me, and if I know exactly were I’m going at the end, I often lose interest in getting there. But, I live in Los Angeles now, and scripts need to be tight, well thought out, and usually of a certain length. I ain’t too old to learn new tricks. So, my professional work is gonna be tightly plotted (with room for improvisation and inspiration), and the other stuff – like this blog – is gonna wander.
But I’m still gonna talk about the things that inspired this whole blog-like thing: I’m a dad, I’m a men, I’m a lot of things, and I’m gonna continue to explore them and write about them. Fatherhood, manhood, guns, movies, fart jokes, books, Star Wars, sex, comedians, politics (once in a while, if I can keep the vitriol down). Anything and everything. and beer. DEFINITELY beer. I’m turning this blog into my little notebook that I thought was so cool. And, I’m gonna start writing in that notebook again, when my hands aren’t full of baby. Damn, he’s big.
I ALSO wanna take a moment to recognize all the new fathers I know from the past year. Whatever was in the water, we all drank it, and DAMN, there are some amazing new creatures in the world because of all of us gettin’ naughty. Congrats to Eric, Dan, Kahlil, Colin, Jonathan, Joey Bag-o-Donuts. I know there’s more, and I apologize for not being able to remember your names right now, but , as you all know, baby brain ain’t just for women anymore. Welcome to the brave new world of raising a responsible human being. You’re about to earn your grey hairs.
I ALSO wanna open up this forum to all the dads I know, new and old, and invite you post your own musings on manhood with me on this page. Basically, let’s start talking about it together. I’m happy to moderate, if anyone’s interested. If not, I feel ya, I’m tired all the time, too. But I’d love to hear from you. No rules on content, format, whatever – you wanna write a play about being a dad, bring it. I’ll post it. Whatever’s on your mind. If you’re so inclined, this is a place to let it all rip. I’m sure you’ve got something to say, so let me know if you want to say it here.
Write. Every day. Whatever. No matter what. Write. Write every day.
If we keep it up, sooner or later we’ll write something worth reading.
P.S.: Next time, I’ll write about my new baby boy. Stay tuned….
So I’ve been planning to restart this blog for a while now, and I was about to post this on Facebook as a status update when I realized just how long it was going to be. I figured this was a better place for it.
Fellow Nashvillians have been posting the story from the Tennessean about today being the anniversary of the 2010 flood, and I thought I’d share my own experience of that weekend. Hard to believe that was five years ago.
This is what I remember about the flood:
On Saturday, May 1, I attended a meeting of the Board if Directors for People’s Branch Theatre, the small company I was Artistic Director for, at which we voted to shut the doors on the company. We met at the offices of a board member on Nolensville Road between Antioch and Brentwood, and the rain has already begun to pour. As we wrapped up our meeting and headed out, reports were already coming in about washouts along I-24, the exact corridor I would need to use to get back home. I decided to take what I would later come to find out (after living in LA) are called surface roads, following Nolensville Road all the way back into town to the I-40/I-24 junction and Lebanon Road, which I then took to McGavock Pike and all the way into my neighborhood off of Pennington Bend. The rain never let up that entire day and most of the next.
Sunday morning, May 2, the rain finally abated, and Julee and I loaded our six-week-old son into his carseat and took a drive around our area to see what shape it was in. Keep in mind, we lived right off of the Cumberland, and we were aware that downtown was already getting dangerously high (in fact, downtown may have already suffered some of the flood damage; I can’t remember exactly). We drove down by the river behind us to the boat inlet, and at that point in time, while much higher than normal, the water level was still a good twenty feet below the surface line. Two Rivers Golf Course had been pretty much submerged, and we were in awe of what had happened. We returned home with little more thought about it, glad that the worst seemed to be over. However, we kept the news on all day as weather reports continued to come in.
As the day wore on, reporters continued to talk about rising water levels in downtown, and that there was still more to come. Julee began to ask whether or not we should consider packing a bag and heading out, but I honestly did not believe anything would happen. That evening, as it began to get dark, Julee received a phone call from another employee at the Nashville Children’s Theatre who happened to live in the subdivision next to us that they were being evacuated from their home due to rising water levels on the Cumberland. They had two small children of their own and had just moved to Nashville from Atlanta, so they had no family in town, and they wanted to know if they could possibly stay with us for the night if necessary. We said sure, expecting them to come over soon if the worst happened. I still believed we were safe in our house.
Within a few hours, police cruisers were circling thru out neighborhood advising residents to leave their homes, as the river had rested its banks and was continuing to rise. Our colleague’s neighborhood had already been evacuated, and her home was several feet under water.
Our son was six weeks old.
We quickly packed clothing and some essentials into both of our cars – computers, valuables, photo albums. I moved some other electronics upstairs into the upper bedrooms to minimize whatever damage I could, and we loaded our two dogs and our son into our cars and headed out of the neighborhood. Our next door neighbors had decided to stay, and he told me he would check in with me as the night wore on.
We lived in Donelson, and my mother lives in Hermitage off of Old Hickory Lake, so we tried our best to get to her home, but Lebanon Road was shut down due to flooding at Central Pike. We couldn’t get to her at all. I knew she was safe (thank god for cell phones), but we were suddenly stuck with no place to go. The only friend we could get in touch with lived in Madison, and he welcomed us to come for the night. The only problem: it meant driving over the Cumberland. With no choice, we headed in that direction. Thankfully, due to the large shipping traffic, the bridges over the Cumberland are very tall, so there was no chance of the bridge itself washing out. As we crossed, however, we were astounded (and rightly terrified) to see just how much the water had risen. It’s hard to describe, because it just seemed overwhelming. But you’ve seen the pictures on the news, and I have no doubt there will be stuff about it all day long. You remember it, too.
Anyway, we made it across the river and to our friend’s home without incident, and we slept poorly that night. The next morning, we went the back way along Old Hickory Blvd to my mother’s house, and we stayed there for the next several days. I was working on a project with Tennessee Repertory Theatre (now Nashville Rep – things change in five years), and since our neighborhood was on the way back to my mother’s house, I decided to stop and see what had happened. I still have the footage from that visit on my camera.
Our house was fine. Perfectly fine. It sits on a small knoll, and the ground behind us was purposely constructed as a large ditch for runoff in case of such an event, and the ground sloped away from us on the other side of the street. The water came up around our block on both sides, but the ditch and the knoll ensured that, even if the water had risen to that level, it would have run off on the other side, and the worst we would have suffered would have been flooding of our crawlspace. We got lucky. The people behind us had at least three to five feet of water in their homes. Our next door neighbor was also fine, and he was extremely good-humored about it all. From the upper bedroom window in our house, I shot footage of our backyard, only the very back corner of which had any water in it at all. Like I said, lucky.
But here’s what I remember most, and I have the footage to back it up: two men in a small fishing boat cruising up and down the streets of our neighborhood, trying to help anyone they could. Our neighborhood has a boat parking lot, and these two guys and other like them pulled their boats out and got to work. I heard they had pulled someone down from their roof and brought them out to dry land. It was incredible.
And, of course, this happened all over the city. Thousands of people got busy helping each other out, however they could – rescuing others from danger, tearing out ruined wallboard and insulation, trying to save whatever possessions they could. I helped a neighbor around the block whom I had never met do this to his house along with what seemed like every other person on the block. I loaned him my extension cords for the fans he used to try and dry out his crawlspace, and I learned later when he brought them back that he and his wife had moved into the neighborhood at the same time we did. They had, in fact, looked at our house, and since we had already beaten them to it, they had bought their current one, which had happened to be the only other home for sale in the neighborhood at that time. We had looked at that house ourselves. Had things turned out differently, he might have been helping me gut the soaked fiberglass from my floorboards. Again, lucky.
Across the city, people lived up to the idea of the Volunteer State. It was incredible. Julee went to the Red Cross emergency station set up in Donelson to see if she could help out, and she was told that, since so many people had already begun helping each other, there was very little for them to do. And of course, the T-shirts began to fly (I still have my We Are Nashville shirt), and it made me and everyone else very proud of my hometown. All of this, of course, was somehow overlooked by the national news services, a fact later made very clear about two days later by Anderson Cooper on his own show, but the one thing that was remarked upon the most by the time the story did air was that Nashville got to work and helped itself out.
I no longer live in Nashville, but it’s my hometown and always will be. I’m not particularly proud of a lot of the reason it HAS made national news in the last five years, but I am proud of the fact that everyone was impressed by the fortitude, good will, and volunteer spirit of its citizens. This was us at our best, and it’s something worth remembering.
It’s also important and relevant to this blog for another reason I’m proud to be from the South – we know how to do shit. We can get things done. There’s a large element of self-reliance that is very much a part of growing up in the South. Ironicallly, it’s something I resisted for a large part of my earlier life, but once I embraced it, I can’t believe I ever wanted to deny it. I’ve posted about this before, so I’m not gonna rehash, but I can do things with my hands, and I’m forever grateful for it. I can also use my mind, and I’m even more grateful for that. I can put the two together, and that’s the best. And it’s something I intend to pass on to my son.
Actually, to my sons.
Yeah, we’re having another baby later this year. Another boy, and it’s gonna be another thrilling adventure. But I fully intend to make sure that both of my boys know how to build things, how to fix things, how to make things. Whether it’s a table, a song, or a book, I want my boys to make things. I want them to be capable of doing things so that, if they’re ever in a situation like this, they can get to work. And even tho they’re growing up in California, they’ll always be a little bit from Tennessee.
Oh, and I also plan to keep writing this blog regularly again from this point on, so I hope you’re still with me.
Ryder helps me “fix” things sometimes. For instance, recently he helped me fix the runners on one of the drawers in his chest. He’d tried to climb on it a month or two ago, and it bent the metal runner arm and had to be replaced. I only did one side, however, and somehow a few days ago the other side bent and the drawer came out again. So, another set of runners later, plus some extra screws to hold the pieces in place above and beyond the ones that came with the pieces, and hopefully the drawer won’t break again.
Ryder helped me by holding the screws for me. It took some work, at first, because he decided it would be more fun to drop the screws under the chest. After a few tries, he held onto them just fine and would hand them to me one at a time when I asked for them. Not the first time he’s helped me fix something, and it won’t be the last.
It’s funny to think about, because I know how to fix a lot of things around the house. I did not, however, learn how to do them at home. I did plenty of chores at my house, but fixing things wasn’t part of any of them. I lived with my mom, and I saw my dad on weekends. When he and I were together, we did as much fun stuff as possible, so we never really broke out the tools. I did spend a large chunk of my childhood summers riding around in a van with my dad helping him clean carpets, but again, we didn’t fix things.
My dad gave me a giant set of tools for Christmas when I was seventeen. I honestly didn’t know what to do with most of them. I mean, I knew what they were for, but I had no real desire or intention to use them. Mainly, they just sat in the garage, forlornly collecting dust, patiently awaiting the day when I might decide to use a 7/16 socket wrench to adjust something. In college, I hated my hours in the scene shop because the power tools were just so damn LOUD. I worked in the costume studio instead, partly because that’s where the girls were and partly because it meant I didn’t have to go in the scene shop. I went out of my way to avoid learning any more about tools than I absolutely had to. I was gonna be an actor, dammit, I didn’t NEED to know how to do anything else!
Cracks me up.
After grad school, when I had no idea how to get work as an actor, I floundered for a while. I began to realize I didn’t know how to DO anything else. I applied for various temp jobs with no success, and I spent a miserable year or so waiting tables at a shitty Tex-Mex restaurant, drinking way too much, making way too little, and hating life. I wasn’t doing anything I enjoyed or wanted to do, I was just getting by, surviving. Then my roommate (who also worked with me at the restaurant) waited on a man who was a contractor and who was looking for employees, and we both went to work for him, doing home renovation.
It literally changed my life.
In the first month, I learned how to build a deck, use a reciprocating saw, a hammer drill, a band saw, pneumatic tools, and some basic plumbing and electricity. I can sweat copper plumbing, I can lay and finish hardwood floors and tile – I rebuilt a master bathroom suite from the floor joists up, including installing a free-standing shower stall AND a marble jacuzzi tub. Over the next year and a half, I painted houses, I laid linoleum flooring, built gazebos, poured concrete, rewired switches and outlets, and installed replacement windows. I suddenly knew how to DO shit. I became confident in my hands, in my ability to start and to finish a project – I learned how to fix and to build things. Very manly.
More importantly, I understood two things: first, the value of knowing how to fix things. Til that point, I had changed the oil in my truck a few times myself, but that’s about it. I laid hardwood floors in my mother’s house and my grandmother’s house. I saved them over a thousand dollars each in labor. I installed new sinks and fixed the toilets in my mom’s house. I helped friends who had bought a house refinish their floors. I saved plenty of people I know lots of money by knowing how to do these things. Second, I understood the satisfaction of completing a project on my own, of seeing it thru from start to finish, dealing with hiccups and snags along the way. It reminded me of a show – of starting rehearsal with just the script, and putting all the pieces together until opening night, when the finished product was put onstage for everyone to see. It was truly eye-opening. I found the joy in the work, and it made me better.
After a few months, I started auditioning for shows again, and before long I was an actor again. My roommate and I were both cast in a community theatre production of Biloxi Blues, and we ended up building the set for the show, too, using tools loaned to us by our contractor boss. A year or so after that, and I was on my way to working as a professional actor, and over the next several years, I supported myself between acting gigs doing various carpentry gigs. When I ran a theatre company a few years after that, I always helped load in and load out all the sets and even designed and built a couple as well. When my wife and I bought our house, I gutted and remodeled out master bath, repainted every room, installed ceiling fans and light fixtures, and ripped out and replaced the French doors on the back of the house. I had some help on some of these things, but I did the majority of the work myself. Even the drywall, which I hate. I had plans for an extension of our deck in mind when we decided to move to California instead. I was able to make our house truly OUR house.
Even out here in LA, I’ve replaced a faucet, tweaked the toilets, and built movable gate pieces for the driveway to close off the backyard. I’m constantly fixing things, it seems, and I owe it all to my time as a carpenter. It has made me feel like a man. Confident, capable, and prepared.
So I love it when Ryder helps me. I let him play with my screwdriver sometimes, and he “fixes” things like the screws on the glider. He likes to use my tape measure to “measure” things. Once he’s old enough, I’ll teach him how to use a saw, how to hammer a nail, and how to measure twice, and cut once. I guarantee he’ll know how to fix everything I know how to fix before he goes to college.
There’s a distinction between an artist and a craftsman. I came across this idea reading about two of the greatest American playwrights, Arthur Miller and David Mamet. Men who wield words like tools, knowing exactly what they’re trying to accomplish and how to get there using those tools. Miller himself was also an accomplished carpenter and woodworker, and Mamet has written extensively on the joys of using his hands to make things. Mamet also states in one of his essays that he considers himself a craftsman, not an artist, and expounds on his disdain for the use of the latter. Artist has always made me cringe a little, too, because it (unfortunately) carries pretension on its back. Craftsman sounds solid, hard-working, dependable, and, above all, shows results. In reality, the two terms aren’t that different, and I think there’s a third term that bridges the gap between them: artisan. Artisan can be accused of leaning towards pretension itself, especially when used to describe cheese, but the historical meaning of that word bears me out: one who is both an artist and a craftsman, able to conceive and execute creative ideas using a well-developed set of skills.
So maybe I’m an artisan dad. Who the fuck knows what that means?? But I like the sound of it, and it’s only a little douchey. In any case, I want my son to be good at everything, and being able to fix shit falls under that category. We pass along what we know to our children, so that they can pass it along in turn. I’m looking forward to seeing what skills and abilities Ryder develops and has an affinity for, and I intend to encourage him to know how to build cool, useful shit along the way. And stop that goddamn faucet from leaking.
So yesterday was a good day. We’re currently back home in Tennessee, nearing the end of our annual grandparent visit. It just so happens this year that we were here for the weekend of Father’s Day, and we celebrated by having a backyard grillout and a day-long rotation of friends and family stopping by to visit and to marvel over the little man. The weather was mostly cooperative, and it was hot but pleasant all day long.
I’ve also been catching post after post of people celebrating their fathers and sons on Facebook all day long, and posting a few congrats and happy wishes to fathers that I know and especially to a couple of brand new dads and one dad-to-be who is waiting on his son to be born any day now. Exciting stuff, and it amazes me how excited I now get whenever I hear that someone is going to be a parent. I remember when we were waiting on Ryder to be born, and while we were anxious and terrified and trying desperately to prepare ourselves, everyone around us was ecstatic. Loads and loads of hugs, smiles, and all the love you could ever imagine raining down on us from every direction. It was a little overwhelming, and honestly took us by surprise. We thought, “Wow, everyone else is soooo excited.”
Now I understand why.
Becoming a parent changes you. I talked about this with the above-mentioned expectant father a while ago, and it’s not exactly news. Of course, becoming a parent changes you. But, not in the ways you expect. You are still you – the essence of who you are is unchanged. You still like the same dirty jokes, you still love beer and pizza (even if your kid doesn’t – the pizza, that is), and you probably don’t feel any more like an adult than you did before you had a kid. But there is now something more. Something else to worry about, something to clean up after, something to snuggle up with, something to chase around the yard, something to make eat his vegetables, something else to love. You become more. It makes you care more about different things, and it makes you stronger in ways you could never imagine.
I’m gonna refer back to my last post about Man of Steel just for a moment – no spoilers, just a general reaction to a specific element in the film. The scenes of Kal-El’s childhood with his human father Jonathan Kent were, to me, the heart of the film. Every single scene was a moment depicting the love of a father for his son. It makes me feel that love itself is more than just an emotion – it is its own thing. This love contains so many emotions that it cannot be considered simply an emotion in and of itself – pride, fear, disappointment, anger, and so many more. It truly makes love itself a living, breathing entity, something that descends upon you and grows within you at the very moment that your child is born, and it becomes the scaffolding for the growth of this new human being. And, along the way, you continue to grow with it, becoming more and more every day, as your child needs you to grow. And as I watched the movie, every time Jonathan Kent spoke to young Clark about who he is and who he will be, the tears welled up, and I felt my heart pounding in my chest.
Every father wants to see his son grow to become Superman, to become a beacon of hope and nobility. And they look to us to see how to do that. In his son’s eyes, every father is Superman. And the love for your child is exactly the source of the strength a father needs.
So Happy Father’s Day to every Superman I know out there – the fathers of Aiden, Denton, Charliemonster, Ammon, Ivey James, and Austin, Ryan, and soon-to-be-welcomed Dash. You are stronger than you know. May your sons’ capes blow proudly in the wind, and may they always see the capes on your shoulders. May they soar into the sky, and may they always look back and see the man who grounded them well enough to allow them to fly.
So I just watched the latest trailer for the new Superman movie and suddenly I can’t wait. I’ve been on the fence about this movie for a long time, and, in just two minutes, Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder have given me reason to hope.
I was born in 1973, and, like every other boy my age, Christopher Reeve was, is, and always will be Superman. And Superman will always be my idol – the ideal I strive toward every waking day. I would have gotten the shield tattoo if not for goddamn Bon Jovi. But I’ve dreamt my entire life of putting on the red cape and soaring into the sky. I choke up every single time I hear the John Williams theme song, and in preparation for this summer, I’ve been choking up a lot. But there’s another reason, too.
See, Ryder is now a Superman fan. He’s got the Underoos (which are now readily available, as opposed to when I was kid, and also much more flame retardant, as opposed to when I was a kid); he knows the score (aforementioned John Williams). He’s seen me wearing the T-shirt since his birth, and he’s had at least one of his own. He even had a Superman birthday party a few weeks ago. Full-on, too – Supes bouncy house and costumes for both father and son. My own costume, however, was slightly modified, as I discovered there’s a reason why kids look cute in Spandex costumed and adults do not. Two words: dance belt. Thus, my own costume consisted of the cape from the costume (the only flattering part of the whole ensemble), a replacement for my old, well-loved and now ill-fitting shield T-shirt, shorts, and lots of beer. I called it Barbecue Superman, and I eagerly await my action figure. Guests were invited to bring their own capes, or we would help them make one of their own. A couple of brave souls took us up on it, and there’s a photo floating around of some SuperDads. Awesome.
But my son also loves Superman. And this was done by me very much on purpose. Until recently he hadn’t much exposure to the character. We just watched the Reeve film for his first time about a month before his birthday, and I have to interject that, while dated in many, many ways, Christopher Reeve still shines. (Side note: I was one of few human beings who will admit they liked the 2006 reboot just fine – soon as the first notes of the theme music hit my ears, my throat closed up and I was seven years old again.) The experience with Ryder is one that will stay with me forever. As we watched Lois Lane’s helicopter plummet over the roof of the Daily Planet and Clark Kent searched desperately for a phone booth in which to change, Ryder started to scream because he didn’t want Lois to fall. He got more and more upset, crying and jumping, honestly frightened for this character in the film for whom he had enormous empathy and whom he did not want to see hurt. I had to reassure him several times in the next minute that it would be all right, because Superman was coming, and he would save the day. When the Man of Steel finally rocketed toward the falling copter and caught both it and Lois, both of us breathed deeply and relaxed. The rest of the movie continued without further incident, for which I was glad, and we enjoyed every second of it. For days after, Ryder would tell me and everyone else how scared he was when the copter was falling, but that then Superman would come and “save the day”.
It gets better. Now, Ryder plays Superman and rushes thru the house saving people (as any good little boy should) from imaginary threats, holding these innocents in his arms, protecting them and depositing them safely elsewhere. He also talks often of how he’s Superman too, and how he’ll save the day. And I love him for it.
See, I’ve always used Superman as my moral compass. From my earliest memories, I’ve held him up as a symbol of the best it is possible for humanity to be. Never mind the facts that 1)he’s fictional, and 2)he’s an alien – not important in the least. He taught me that power does not and should not make you superior. He taught me that the best thing you can do is help those who cannot help themselves, and that a hero is measured by his deeds. He taught me that striving toward an ideal is important, and that, no matter its source, it’s good to have that ideal. Christopher Reeve embodied that ideal for me as a young boy, and, if the trailer gives me any glimpse of the quality of the story being told in the new film, Henry Cavill will do the same for my son. I have plenty of issues with the casting choice – looks the part, yes, not an American actor, not happy about that, because I’m a little tired of European actors grabbing all the American roles (and yes, there is something very American about Superman, but this entire tangent deserves its own post on a very different blog) – but if he does his job well, and Snyder and Nolan have done their job well, the IDEAL of Superman will shine thru, and it will give my son an example of what the best in us can be.
Ryder and I listen to the theme song from Superman very often in the car, and he also asks me to sing it to him sometimes. I happily oblige, “Daaa-da-da-da-DAAAAAH”-ing my way thru the entire piece. I memorized it as a child, and I have never forgotten it. I’ve heard that it won’t make an appearance in the new film, and I guess I’ll have to be okay with that, but anytime we’re in the car, guess which music I’m gonna play? And it matters to me on this level: Right now, at this moment, and for a certain number of years, my son will look up at me and he will consider me his ideal, the man whom he strives to become. I am his hero. His Superman. So it’s important for me to continue to strive toward that ideal myself, to be worthy of that love, that adoration, that worship. I have to earn the right for him to tell me that, when he grows up, he wants to be just like me. Every father is Superman to his son. Never forget that.
This is terribly important in the world today, especially in light of the events yesterday in Boston. We need heroes in the world today to remind us all that people, as a whole, are decent, and that they deserve better and more. They deserve to be protected, they deserve to be loved. They deserve to believe that there is someone, somewhere, who will help them no matter who they are, no matter color of their skin, no matter the people they love, no matter how much money they make. They deserve a hero who will stand up to those who would beat them down, who would cause them pain, who would tell them that they do not matter. We all deserve a Superman to watch over us.
In the trailer, Superman sits in a questioning room with Lois Lane (Henry Cavill and Amy Adams), and she asks him why he wears an S on his chest. He responds, “This isn’t an S. On my world, this means ‘hope’.” It’s always meant that to me.
So maybe I will get that tattoo someday after all.
I’m lying in bed with my son as he sleeps. It’s late afternoon (he’s a late napper), and he’s had a busy, energetic day. He’s trying to refuse naps lately, but he obviously still needs them, so we lie down and take one every day. Yesterday he played so hard that he fell asleep in the car on the way home for naptime, and I had to carry him in and change him from underwear and jeans into a pull-up diaper (potty training proceeds apace) while he was sleeping. Thankfully, he never fluttered an eyelid.
It’s really something else. My wife sleeps in bed with him most nights, and I can understand why. I was against it for a long time, mainly because he had been sleeping on his own since he was a month old and it was working great. He got sick last year, tho, and she brought him into our bed, and from then on he didn’t want to sleep alone. I made my peace with it and have learned to enjoy my own solo time in bed – a queen size all to yourself is nice and roomy – and in general I try to let him sleep alone during naptime.
All of this goes out the window, of course, if he wakes up mid-nap in a panic, screaming for me. Then, as any good dad would, I bolt into the room and lie with him to calm him down and soothe him back to sleep. I usually finish the nap with him after that (and let’s face it, that’s most likely what I was doing on my own, anyway. He’s not the only one who needs a nap).
However, today I had decided pre-nap that round two of coffee was a necessity, and so when the time came to fall asleep with a book on my chest, instead I read fifty pages (Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park sequel The Lost World) and tossed around some. Just then the familiar cry came from Ryder’s room, the bookmark went in, and I climbed into bed next to my boy.
Ryder often half-wakes like this. Moaning, eyes still squeezed shut, standing on the bed. I speak softly to him, and he lays back down, squirms and moans a little more, eventually makes contact with my body somehow (two days ago he held my nose for five minutes), and sinks back into sleep. So it was today, as he found my side with his feet and stretched out diagonally across the bed. I scoot him around a little so I can actually keep my body weight on the bed an not hang in limbo over the edge, and I settle down to try to snooze with him.
No good. Hence the post. But as I lie here typing into the nap’s best friend, the iPhone, I’m watching Ryder sleep. He’s not as deep in as some days, a little wriggly, but still out like a light. And it’s on days like this that I appreciate why my wife likes to sleep with him every night.
The peaceful look on a child’s face as they sleep is one of the most beautiful things in the world. Completely serene, calm, unconcerned with anything else at that moment. Granted, he’s unconscious, but it’s a wondrous thing to behold, because it reminds me that, for him, the world is a wondrous place, to be explored and claimed and conquered, and every day is met with bright eyes, enthusiasm, and glee.
That’s the face my son shows me every morning when he comes into my room to wake me up. It makes me smile just thinking about it, and it reminds me that, despite all of our problems, our bills, our anger, our defeat – despite all of the shit that we as adults have to deal with on a daily basis to provide the things that he needs, it’s worth it to give him the opportunity to explore this world and to make it his own. And you need lots of rest to go forth and conquer like that.
So naptime is essential. And during that time, I find myself at peace, calm, serene, unconcerned – I reach that same state of Zen that my son lives in, a joyous celebration of the Moment, the Now, and I cherish the fact that I get to share that with him every day.